Landers ready to lead hungry Tigers

Caleb Suggs

Hartselle Enquirer

 

As the 2016 football season looms, there are plenty of teams and players who are eager and hungry to get out on the gridiron and prove what they can do. However, none may be more driven the seniors of the Hartselle Tigers. Hartselle has not advanced past the first round of the playoffs or hosted a playoff game since 2012 which was the year before the new seniors arrived at the high school. This offseason the Tigers have been extra motivated to pick up their intensity as the senior leaders help take control of leading the team. Chief among those is three year starting senior linebacker Connor Landers.

When Landers arrived to Hartselle High School as a freshman, he was joining a football team that was in search of a new identity as they searched for replacements for almost 15 starters. However, this would serve to be a valuable teaching moments as he learned lessons of leadership and trust from the seniors. “It helped you learn to trust who was around you,” Landers said “You learn that they have your back and they learn that you have their back and if you do you job it will all come.” Landers also credits those seniors for helping him learn how to be a player and a leader going forward. “I learned how to go about practices and how to perform in games,” Landers said, “it was great because I was just able to sit back and take everything in so I would be prepared for the future.”

Although he was just a freshman, Landers wouldn’t have to sit and learn all season like most other freshmen as he was thrown into the fire late in the year. “We had an injury to one our linebackers late in the year so the coaches put me in on certain drives,” Landers said “it was something special to be able to play as a freshmen and I learned a lot playing alongside guys like Waid Miller.”

Landers having to grow up early would pay dividends for him as he became the starter at middle linebacker, as just a sophomore. However, he would face a lot of pressure as he had to replace the departing Miller who had been a three-year starter himself. “There was definitely pressure on me but I felt I was up to the task,” Landers said, “I felt I could jump in and help take the leadership role on the defense.” Still, the Tigers were face with having to adjust to moving into the 6A classification. The new class put the Tigers on a grueling schedule in which they played tough teams week after week. Hartselle also suffered heartbreaking losses that could’ve been damaging to a young team like them. “The losses to Decatur and Muscle Shoals were tough to swallow” Landers said “but at the same time it helped us learn for the next year what we needed to do and not do as a 6A team.”

As Landers entered his junior year, he was charged with leading a new group in Hartselle. In 2015 the defensive unit would become what was known as the “Wolverines”. “The wolverines was something our defensive coordinator Oscar Glasscock came up with,” Landers said, “it was just about challenging us to play tough and fierce.” Landers said, “I think it helped us become more close as unit,” Landers said. “We started hanging out together more, eating with each other and stuff and I think that helped on the field.” The results certainly backed his statement as they defense only allowed 12, 13 and 7 points to Decatur, Cullman and Florence respectively. However, they would hit a huge bump when they faced the Austin Black Bears. Although Hartselle was winning at halftime, Austin’s offense exploded in the second half and didn’t slow down until they reached the semi finals of the AHSAA playoffs. The Tigers lost 62-31 and the defense was tasked with trying to regroup. “I think we handled that well. You know sometimes that just happens,” Landers said “We actually had a defensive meeting that night and we said that we just had to put it past us and I think we did.”

Now as Landers enters his senior year, the atmosphere around the program is electric. The Tigers have changed some of their defensive strategies and the defense is feeling as confident as ever. “I like the new tweaks we’ve made this offseason” Landers said “but in the end it’s about us doing our job out there.” Landers himself has been busy. Landers was invited to the All-American combine for the blue-grey bowl at AT&T stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys this past June. After competing in workouts of things like bench press and long jumps and competing in one on one drill he was selected as an All-American. He will compete in the Blue-Grey bowl this winter in Jacksonville, Fla. “Just being out there was an awesome experience.”

Still, Landers focus now is set on this season as the Tigers prepare for Cullman week one. Landers tried to  put aside that it’s Cullman in the first game but the smile from the excitement was something he couldn’t hide. “I’m excited. Cullman is a big rivalry,” Landers said, “this one is big because we’re tied 45-45 in the rivalry so that makes it even better.”

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